Back in the office today after two days away last week and a weekend divided into equal parts of exhaustion and working some more.
Despite the fact that I had kept up with emails while away, we are less than two weeks away from a major event and back at my desk I might have well have been plummeting back to earth with G forces making my cheeks expand, flatten and shudder. I probably looked much like that anyway.
On the way in, I listened to an interview with Jilly Cooper, an English novelist and journalist, probably most famous for her series of raunchy novels, known as the Rutshire chronicles. I have not read them, but assume she set them in a place called Rutshire because of all the rutting that goes on on them. At 79 she is still terribly enthusiastic about pretty much everything and confessed that although she really would like to write some journalistic pieces again, she had an idea for another book and that had got it the way as she was now writing that. She had a habit of finishing her answers with a rhetorical question.
‘It is about football – what a terribly good idea, don’t you think?’
‘I do think,’ said the interviewer, ‘have you got a title yet?’
‘Oh yes’, she replied, ‘Tackle.’
Silly question really.
I came across Jilly Cooper (as, it was revealed, had the interviewer) as a teenager. She had written a series of novels, all with one word titles named after the heroine: Imogen, Prudence, Emily, Harriet, Octavia. I loved those books. To my teenage and inexperienced mind they were instantly accessible but felt terribly sophisticated. People getting drunk, shy retiring types being improbably wooed by gorgeous men, who were stunning but clearly going to be rotters. I remember my friend, Sarah who was also reading them declaring, ‘You always know who the girl will end up with – it is always the man she hates when she first meets him.’ But more than the romances, the books were all about freedom and transformation. The characters were all young and of an age when they had not yet settled, the heroines were all about to break free and embark on a new stage of their lives.
Most of all though, I remember the preface for each of the books, as each of them had started off as a short story, written for a magazine, which Cooper had taken and developed into a novel with a full cast of characters. It is still possible, just about, to buy the books – although I doubt they will seem as sophisticated to me now as they did then – and annoyingly I no longer have my old copies, despite the fact I used to re read them. Of the six or so books in the series, the two stand outs for me were Imogen and Prudence and I was describing a scene from Imogen to a colleague this afternoon, which featured her watching a young couple, clearly in love, on a private beach with their toddler who was playing in the sand. The toddler, unseen by the couple then got up and started toddling into the water as Imogen watched on, helpless. I started crying as I described the scene, firstly because I am a whimp, and secondly because I could still visualise it and the ensuing rescue as clearly as if I had read the book yesterday.
I did find a few pages of one online and read them expecting to cringe, but actually just as with the beach scene, I was right back there, aged 15 and reading the text. The books are full of humour, which helps to save them from dating too awkwardly. I would love to get a copy of the short story to see what the original idea had been and how she had developed it.
Jilly Cooper writes on a manual typewriter. She is a three fingers typist and the typewriter has a pair of scissors attached to the return handle which she uses to cut out paragraphs and reorder in the story. Yes folks, that is how we used to cut and paste in the old days. I hope she has many more paragraphs to go and that she will keep tapping her keys so her characters can keep, er, tapping each other.